Archive for August, 2009
Over the past few days or so, I’ve watched the various blogs that I tend to watch from the corner of my eye posting about how serious blogging apparently is. From Tobold running off on Twitter-pated bloggers to Dragonchasers taking a break, and a few others not related to the topics of this blog feeling a bit down in their writing, it’s just seems to be a grey, cloudy atmosphere in the blogosphere lately.
I’m with Ysharros, who scratches her head at the whole idea, or Cuppycake for wondering what’s so serious lately. I’d like to insert a little bit of bright, sun-shiny day into the whole thing, frankly. I’ll start by saying something that in a puzzling way, seems to make people more angry than relieved, especially when you’ve beaten them 6 rounds in a row with cheap Dragon Punches and Fireball combos. But I digress. Ahem.
What I’m trying to say is, much like “it’s only a game”, I think folks need to realize that “it’s only a blog”. Much like games, I think people write blogs because they somehow on some level personally enjoy doing so – whether it’s to have the rather cathartic notion of thoughts spinning in one’s head on (digital) paper or to perhaps shoehorn it into something greater. If you’re not blogging as a means to be paid for it in a journalistic role, then in essence it’s on some level a side gig. So the question is, why be so upset or confrontational about something that is supposed to be peripheral? I get that in some cases, blogs are a personal extension of oneself, and that to be attacked on it is to be attacked personally. But until someone appoints a bunch of folks to have the very thankless, headache-inducing, masochistic job of policing/moderating the Internet, the fact that people don’t like what you say on a blog is just going to happen.
To be hilariously crude for just a second, I’ll just modify an old saying – “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has them – but on the Internet, no one knows who the crap is coming from.” Anonymity is a shield behind which many hide themselves to make some of the most deplorable commentary ever. This is why it’s ultimately not a big deal. I like what I have to say, believe in just about every sunny, wonderful, optimistic word I type, and know that there are far more pessimists than optimists out there. I welcome them to leave comments because it gives me the opportunity to elicit a laugh or at least a /facepalm with my coffee-fed, blindingly bright responses. And at the end of the day, I hit Publish, drop an update into Twitter and Facebook, and go about my day. Honestly, I have more important things to stress over, like why is my laundry all pink today, or what I was thinking when I bought the entire Generation One line of Transformers off of EBay.
Compared to those very real things, blogs just don’t make the cut.
Those of you who’ve been following the latest about Star Wars: The Old Republic are well aware that last Friday was the official reveal of the Sith Warrior – the brutal, aggressive, ass-kicking lightsaber wielder with a penchant for violence. The 20 minute gameplay video saw plenty of the Sith Warrior in action, as he impaled, choked, and generally destroyed his way through challenges in his way. For those who’ve had a bit of an inkling towards the Dark Side, and find goody-goody Jedis boring, this is probably at least one of the classes you’d be considering.
There’s been a lot of speculation about where the Sith Warrior fits in the whole archetype system that MMOs tend to follow. Some people want to say that there are two Force-wielding classes per side, and that the Warrior is a precursor to introducing a more Force-focused character class. Some people disagree, saying that Jedi and Sith lightsaber vs. Force use was more of a personal choice rather than affinity towards one or the other.
To be honest, Bioware is, to me, on the cusp of possibly making something of a class system that doesn’t fall into traditional archetypes or any kind of “trinity” system. This could be wildly successful or be terribly inefffective, but either way, to no surprise of anyone reading, I’m excited and happy about the possibility. Fueling my thought is the latest descriptions of the Sith Warrior, which basically call it a heavily armored class that beats opponents into submission with powerful attacks. Such a description, putting aside the marketware, doesn’t seem to fit into any one archetype. When people think about “warrior” in the traditional MMO sense, typically they are referring to a tank class, known to be more defensive and less of an attacker. But the Sith Warrior appears to be able to do damage as well as take a beating. You could say that this is “too good to be true”, but I actually wonder if Bioware is trying to break a mold here and do something different.
Part of the appeal of the Bioware system of character advancement, especially in KOTOR, was that by using more traditional pen-and-paper methods of distributing stats and talents, you could be whatever character you wanted yourself to be. While there were broad, simple archetypes, the amount of customization you could do to your character in the course of his or her journey was simply nothing short of amazing. These sorts of things aren’t big visual elements, but more of an under-the-hood kind of tuning that made things appealing. You wonder if Bioware is doing the same thing with these classes, creating character classes based on iconic figures but allowing the player to shape the character how they want. In an MMO, it’s a potential recipe for disaster, but for those looking to fulfill unique roles not known or expected in your typical MMO party, it might actually end up being interesting. Really, one can only wait and see what the latter half of the classes will bring us (as now 4 of the 8 classes have been revealed), but if they’re anything like the Sith Warrior reveal, the class discussion is going to get a lot more interesting and exciting the next few months.
Ah, the convenience of posting from a Blackberry. Isn’t technology grand?
Anyway, in case you didn’t catch it a couple nights ago, Food Network show Ace of Cakes broadcast a show highlighting the Squig cake that was made for Warhammer Online. Master chef Duff made frequent references to this being “the best cake ever”, and it shows.
Putting aside game-related topics about WAR for a moment, this was really great to see for a variety of reasons. First, as always, its great to see mainstream coverage of games that doesn’t relate to some dude who played so long they sprained their groin somehow. The genuine enjoyment that the Warhammer fandom had for Duff’s creation was definitely obvious, and more than that it was clear that this wasn’t some kind of novelty or anything different in terms of clientele. Gamers and revs were seen not as some strange freaks of nature (though there were times the Squig scared the crew) but as just another audience for Charm City Cakes to demonstrate their talent.
There was also the outreach to a different bunch of folks as well. Of all the places for something as geeky as WAR to get more publicity, the Food Network is not a place you’d think of. It’s one thing to get a nod in the news, but entirely another to get a food item made out of something that is definitely fantasy geek chic. The opportunity this might create for other game devs and their fans is neat and exciting (Darth Vader cake anyone?).
Since I was Press at Games Day Baltimore for Curse, I got a chance to have a piece of Squig cake, and let me tell you – the cake just didn’t look good, it tasted damn good as well. Charm City cakes deserve their show and their reputation, and it was great for WAR and Mythic to benefit from it.
An interesting bit of news floated up to me today regarding a bit about everyone’s favorite social whori-er I mean social networking tool, Twitter. Seems that folks in charge of regulation at the U.S. Open are warning players against using Twitter, claiming that certain tweets may actually violate anti-corruption policies. The scope of examples apparently includes “information about the likely participation or likely performance of a player in an event or concerning the weather, court conditions, status, outcome or any other aspect of an event which is known by a Covered Person and is not information in the public domain.”
Now look here – I get where these folks are coming from. I mean, even though tennis probably ranks nowhere for making a buck gambling in comparison to football, baseball, and the like, they’ve gotta protect the integrity of the sport. I could be ignorant, though – the only tennis I’m really familiar with besides Wii Tennis, of course, is all those times that firecracker player John McEnroe went off on a referee, his opponent, the ball person, and anyone else within reach.
But trying to stem the tide of Twitter, where updates can be made from practically anywhere that has cellphone signal, is like trying to plug a dam that’s springing leaks. You can only really stick your finger in so many holes, after all. The real-time, instant connection appeal of Twitter is a godsend to some athletes who want to keep in contact with their fans, talk about some of their daily routine, and share the emotions they are feeling on the field. Restricting their communications over this medium is somewhat crazy – especially when you consider that more than just athletes use the service. That, and a few organizations and folks have tried to restrict Twitter communications, but none have really been successful yet. That ship’s sailed, hit an iceberg, and sunk into the ocean, guys and gals.
Just like it was with mp3′s, organizations like the ones responsible for maintaining integrity in the U.S. Open probably need to be a bit more adaptive rather than reactive to the new digital age. Minimizing the impact and effect of some player who tweets “in a LOT OF FUCKING PAIN” as they lie writhing on the ground from a twisted ankle, mobile device in hand, is probably a better path to go then trying to stop the practice altogether. Twitter in and of itself might be able to be utilized for good PR as well – real time feeds and reports using the service to report the latest and greatest in US Open coverage might not be such a bad idea, rather than worrying about some tennis addict making a buck or two.
So while I do have to say, props to the Tennis Integrity Unit of the U.S. Open for taking on such a challenge, I’ll also say to them “Good Luck!”….because they’re going to need every bit of it to stop the noise of thousands of people tweeting about their match results. Have fun with that.
My good friend Kristen jawed to me the other day about MMOs and the competition coming up on the horizon. She’d been watching recent threads, and saw what seemed to be a running trend among them. This asked a simple question – is (insert game here) a WoW killer? The usual speculation and firestorm of posts resulted, from people confident that the title they were most loyal to was destined to dethrone WoW to those that said it was equally as destined to fail to do so.
While Kristen and I aren’t fond of WoW for a variety of reasons, that doesn’t mean the looming question doesn’t get asked. Will upcoming titles like Aion, Champions Online, and SWTOR are capable of toppling the current king of the hill from its perch?
There’s a great amount of loyalty and pride that people have in the titles that they follow. Whether that title has 10,000 subscribers or 1,000,000 subscribers, there’s a sort of fierce “home turf” sort of protectiveness that comes from a genuine enjoyment of the game. People call this “fanboyism”, but I like to call it brand loyalty and a defense of something they’re actually liking. That’s not unusual and frankly, plenty fine with me, because games are meant to be enjoyed. Cynics and haters, by contrast, are quick to tear down titles they may have played but didn’t ultimately enjoy, or are sometimes despondent over the fact that even though WoW may or may not be something they like, that nothing will ever drop it from its kingly throne.
Either way, my answer to this question is indirect and of course, sunny. Too much effort is put into wondering whether or not a game is going to kill another game or become #1 on the market. In fact so much effort is expended that people tend to get exasperated, upset, and otherwise furious that their opinion isn’t one that everyone agrees with. Guys and gals, wondering if a game is going to be competitive is the job of the developers, investors, and marketing folks – people with far more stressful jobs than we do. People really need to relax and judge enjoyment of their game of choice on things besides “whether or not this game will kill WoW” – things like personal fun factor, desire to play, and their experience with the games appealing points and its flaws.
Players aren’t the only ones who need to take a chill pill with regards to the WoW killer topic. I mentioned developers above, and worrying about whether a game is competitive is a lot different than worrying about whether your game will kill WoW or not. If I’ve seen a developer or two make a mistake over the past 3 or 4 years, it’s talking a lot of bluster and taking shots over the bow at WoW in an attempt to exude not just confidence in a product but its ability to compete directly with the king of MMOs. In most cases, it has led to at best an underperforming game and at worst, total shutdown. Developers – in this small-time blogger’s opinion, it’s not worth it to worry about WoW that much. Changing or adapting core design elements to try to appeal to WoW players is only going to get you something that isn’t WoW but that also isn’t what you wanted out of the game. It’s just not worth it.
Really, this all boils down to not stressing about the competition in the market too much (because ultimately more MMOs is a good thing, not a bad thing) and simply having the confidence in your game of choice to get subscribers on its own merits. Developers and players both need to realize that being the highly visible, hot dogging WoW killer that screams “lookit me (kill WoW)” is going to end up in a really bad injury or a black eye. I think a lot of people would be a lot less stressed (and therefore feeling a lot better enjoyment of their chosen MMO) if they never really bothered with the question of being a WoW killer, because inevitably, something will topple WoW from its top spot – and it won’t be because of things that make that something WoW-like.
If there’s a running trend we’re seeing with Bioware’s upcoming MMO these days, it’s in the way that they introduce new classes to the ravenous fandom. Sure, there are videos and a dev diary, and the requisite interviews, but what I’m referring to is basically what I like to call “iconic presentation”.
If you notice what Bioware is doing with their class reveals, they are very quick to compare a class to an iconic character from the classic Star Wars universe. The Bounty Hunter is Boba Fett, the Smuggler is Han Solo, and so on and so forth. The latest is the comparison of the Sith Warrior to everyone’s favorite badass evil guy Darth Vader.
In this we might find some possible clues as to the remaining classes. For example, a Jedi class is inevitable, but perhaps we might see a mirror to the Sith Warrior be someone patterned after Luke Skywalker or Obi Wan Kenobi. We could see Jedi or Sith who are more attuned to the Force rather than the lightsaber be compared to Yoda or Emperor Palpatine. What about droids like R2-D2? Perhaps a versatile person of many skills as Leia? There are plenty of possibilities to be had among the characters of Star Wars.
I think it’s safe to say that Bioware’s really selling the story appeal partially based upon any dreams we Star Wars geeks had about being the iconic characters from the episodes and stories. To be honest that makes people more excited about the remaining classes of the game and generates a ton more discussion in the forums. Frankly, that’s what Bioware wants – excitement and buzz, to better sell the mechanics and meat the game inevitably has to offer. I personally haven’t found anything among the various classes yet – but hope to by simply looking at who I’d want to play in the vast Star Wars universe.
Someone must have put something into the water supply today, because it sure seems that bloggers everywhere along my blogroll are looking to score some extra comments and grab some attention. Syncaine talks about becoming big time. Ysharros talks about cheese. Ardua follows it up with American pie hate. Syp just wants fun ways to get comments. Riv whores it up. And Ferrel is clearly king.
Guys and gals, this kind of faux attention-grabbing warms the cockles of my online, pure heart, but c’mon guys – let’s be serious. Bloggers should stop worrying about things like “content” or that ugly “quality” word. Those are just, frankly, boring as hell to me. Nah, what we should be doing is looking to grab as many linkbacks, comments, and by-the-second updates as possible, even if they are on things like pie, mexican food, and toilet habits. It’s simply more fun – I mean, look at all the great comments that are appearing on the blogs above.
I must seriously be doing it wrong with my 26 feedburner readers, instead of following these great tips to pimping out my own blog:
Short posts with big fluffy words: In today’s McDonald’s-like, “too long, didn’t read” generation, you just have to stop wasting people’s time. People have Facebook pages to check and Twitter statuses to update, so we should definitely be brief. Two paragraphs, or even one with a couple short sentences is clearly best. But said content needs to be meaningful too, and meaningful in the sense that it draws as much commentwhoring as possible. “World of Warcraft sucks donkey balls” works just as well, for example, which brings me to my next point…
Controversy Leads to Profit: Sure, I could waste my time being nice and all, but hell, maybe I need to start throwing in some blanket statements with strong verbs combined with SEO-laced goldmine subjects. For example, “Harry Potter” and “blows”. “Republicans” and “whining”. “Pie” and “is ten million times better than cake”. Maybe Google will mine my posts a little bit better and put them near the top instead of burying them near the bottom with links like “Positive ways to live life without Xanax”.
Masquerade as Someone Hot: Clearly, us geeks need a little bit of help in the looks department, so why not get people to read us more by using our nefarious Photoshop skills to great effect? A little bit of cutting and snipping and we could have an About page that makes us look like Brad Pitt or Jessica Alba in no time. The rest of the Internet, in a desperate attempt to score with us or at least get a winkie smiley to drool over, will rush to comment on anything we write, even if it’s what we had for breakfast.
Use Helpful Visual Aids:
…because images like this, that belong on the blog of the greatest attention-whoring hero of all time, clearly raise the quality of posts.
I hope you’ve all been enlightened by these amazingly serious and meaningful tips on becoming a better blogger. Now get out there and seek those comments.
This is a cross-post of an article I wrote over at Warhammer Alliance about class balance in WAR. Oh yes, I do more than just be optimistic on this blog – I write words elsewhere.
I think we’ve all been at some point victim to what I like to call “Restaurant Dish Remorse”. The situation is pretty simple – say you go out with friends to a restaurant that you’ve never been to before. You peer over the menu and look at items of interest along with everyone else, and because you haven’t been to the restaurant before, all you can really go on is descriptions and words – things designed to idealize the dish that will be placed before you in short order (if the service is decent) and make it sound like the best thing in the world. Something might catch your eye – maybe it’s the words “balsamic glaze” or “accented with a rich beef gravy”. Maybe the words are simpler, like “steak”, or “suicide spicy”. Either way, you decide to order up something that you think looks good, and so do your friends.
But when the plates come out, it’s not as you hoped it would be. Sure, it tastes decent, but something appears to be missing, whether it be in the presentation, seasoning, or overall texture. Meanwhile, your friends, who may have gotten something completely different, have dishes that look absolutely amazing. They smell and appear to taste great, from your friends’ reactions. They definitely seem 10 times better than your own offering, filling you with a sense of regret and longing. Thus you have “Restaurant Dish Remorse”, and most times you’re left to either finish your plate or steal a couple bites off of your friend’s.
Such as it is with the current perception of WAR’s class balance. Perhaps not so much as an elephant in the room as it is something that people have been waiting to get , class balance has been one of WAR’s sticking points from the very beginning. Whether it’s the fact that Squig Herders were underpowered, Bright Wizards were overpowered, or classes were seemingly ignored, it’s been a known entity that it;s been a bit of a struggle, both for the players and for Mythic’s poor and embattled Combat and Careers team, arguably the ones with the worst, ugliest jobs ever.
Mythic’s class balancing philosophy has changed since the release of the game. Before, they were quick to introduce large scale fixes and sweeping changes, taking sledgehammers to general mechanics and reducing or buffing things across the board. The philosophy is seen in patches such as 1.1 and 1.2. While specific class changes were made, they were indicative of an overall direction for balance in general, whether that had to do with resistances, with reduction of crits, with the increase of “white” or normalized damage, and the like. Mythic has become quite a bit more cautious as of late, holding off on implementing yet another larger patch to address AoE, CC, stats, and more until very recently. All the while, Mythic’s C&C team has been taking in feedback, and in response to player concerns has at times taken a stance that the empirical evidence provided and the “big picture” shows something very different from player perception.
But the problem with player perception is that it is extremely strong, and not to be underestimated. No matter how many times you explain to players that, say, scenarios are more about who did the objectives and got the points rather than who did the most damage, players are going to look for obvious markers that make them feel funny about class balance. No matter how many times you might say that normalization and sweeping changes are necessary before specific tweaks, the players’ more immediate pain of being CC’d down or damaged before having a chance to fight back is still felt. Certain classes will always be the target of “overpowered” (Bright Wizards/Sorcs) or “underpowered” (Magus/Shadow Warriors) accusations. But even if the empirical data points to a result that doesn’t match players’ perception, nobody wants to feel like the class choice they made was the wrong one. No one wants to feel as if choosing another class or worse, watching an opposing class dominate, means they have it so much better. This sort of perception wipes out any kind of acknowledged intelligence in taking things like class balance a bit more slowly.
It’s a conundrum of sorts. How do you not compromise your design by going against your observed data while still accommodating and taking action on the very real player feedback data/perceptions that are arguably just as legitimate?
The first is to establish a good dialog with the players, accompanied by some very real and concrete ideas about specific, surgical changes to classes. Make player perception work for Mythic, and not against them. If someone has chosen a class for their main, they feel a great affinity and protectiveness about that class. It makes it harder to sell general, sweeping fixes that are “good for the big picture” because players’ immediate concern is whether or not x ability they have is useful or y ability they possess is bugged. I haven’t seen this as much (with a certain Magus thread in our forums being the most glaring example), and think that the C&C team needs to work closely with Community to establish not only a line of communication but one that is known to be two-way. The worst thing any class balance team can do in my experience with MMOs is to make the players of a particular class feel ignored or shafted, that their feedback isn’t acknowledged. In this scenario, feedback turns from constructive to destructive, as frustrated players who are not seeing the commonly agreed upon problems of a class addressed resort to harsher means to get attention. Taking more time than is currently allocated to send answers to player concerns, showing them the ideas and thoughts behind speciifc proposed class changes, and then acting on that will go a long way.
The second is to provide a little bit of education. While recent interviews here on Warhammer Alliance and on Gaarawarr Gabs have shown us a little bit behind the C&C curtian, the effort could be greater to show players how the balancing works. The issue with a lot of players’ perception about balance is that Mythic’s responses and ideas regarding it are mostly a mystery, relegated to a few Community posts here and there. While all the nitty-gritty need not be revealed, knowing a little about the roadmap of class balance, showing (heavily disclaimed) timelines of when specific classes will be addressed, and regularly doing updates on Combat and Careers issues will go a little ways to making some players understand the overall vision for balance. While you’re never going to convince some players who are adamant that they know better than the developer team, this does not mean that the effort to provide a bit more context to patching and balancing is not worthwhile.
Lastly, it’s really just all about results and delivering. At this stage of the game, talk – even the kind that I am making in this article – is cheap. Results are the only thing that ultimately matters, and that is especially apparent with class balance. If Mythic wants to smash perceptions that they only play Order these days, or that they can’t nerf exploits and bugs, or that certain classes are simply easymode, then they have to make sure they execute their balancing patches – and soon, even in the midst of being cautious. It really all comes down to making all the dishes in the restaurant relatively appealing. While there can be talk about making the wait staff more efficient or getting better cuts of meat in general to make things better, what really ultimately matters is the dish that is put in front of players to eat. If Mythic can do this, they’ll be sure to make all their class dishes tasty enough to eat, instead of the alternative of having everyone order the one or two dishes that look amazingly good in a seemingly average menu.
Happy Humpday to all, and to all a good Hump!
Ok, well maybe that sounds REALLY bad, but I bet it made you laugh a little, right? Mission accomplished in my opinion.
It’s the middle of the week and hopefully you’re looking forward to sending off August with a bang this weekend. Until then, here’s another blog from my long and illustrious blogroll to keep you busy.
Darth Hater has emerged from the pack of SWTOR blogs with high quality content and constant news about Bioware‘s new and upcoming MMO. With multiple writers, and posts like their now-famous dissection posts that look for bits of detail revealed in SWTOR’s videos, Darth Hater is well on its way to establishing itself as a reputable fan source for all things The Old Republic.
The multiple author format has advantages in creating sites like Darth Hater. There’s variety for one, with each author having a distinct style and mode of speech. There’s also the ability to update quickly, so even if one of the author’s isn’t online to catch a bit of news, someone else is inevitably able to pick it up. This shows in the frequency and quickness with which news is posted to Darth Hater, from developer postings, to significant threads, to new reveals. My Google Reader always has something new at Darth Hater to look at, and that’s not a bad thing.
As if the blog wasn’t enough, the guys over at Darth Hater also have a fledgling podcast on SWTOR. They’re up to 4 episodes now, so if you want a good bit of an SWTOR fix and you can’t stop at reading the various blogs and news sites, check out Darth Hater’s podcast. I know that among the many TOR podcasts currently running, I enjoy listening to theirs.
Even though the name of the site distinctly puts them into the camp of the Sith, don’t be worried – Darth Hater has plenty of balanced, frequently updated content for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I highly advise adding them to your RSS.
Recently, long-lived space MMO EVE Online experienced the latest in its string of curious and newsworthy stories regarding its sandbox play. According to Massively, it looks like the game’s biggest player-run financial bank, EBANK, wasn’t quite doing as well as it thought following a bit of good old-fashioned virtual embezzlement, as it moved to freeze accounts and assets of tons of players.
Part of EVE’s charm has been not just the sandbox-y style of gameplay but also these stories which seem to reflect, more than any other game, that there’s a sense of realism that you wouldn’t see in other titles. EVE has By all accounts, EVE has the political intrigue, interpersonal drama, and in this case, financial/economical structure to not only foster but experience the good and bad things you see here in reality. It’s probably why EVE’s subscription numbers are up in a sea of competition.
The sort of politics, economical control, and other aspects that exist outside of normal game mechanics are what awesome. They’re a sort of metagame that people play in addition to whether or not their character has the best +5 to dexterity vest or knowing if the game lags worse than a three-legged lemur. To be perfectly honest, many of you reading, and many more out there who don’t, have probably played an MMO’s metagame before, without even knowing it. Forums, for example, are the biggest proponent of this – especially in PvP-focused games where the old saying “it isn’t good enough if they don’t cry on the forums about it” takes hold. Having e-peen, or e-rep, even being an e-thug or a troll – these are all parts of another game you’re playing in addition to logging into your MMO of choice.
What about guild interaction and the inevitable drama that goes along with it? Whether it is jockeying for favor, trying to squeeze out ahead of your friends in DKP so you can roll on the best items, or crafting/fostering/backstabbing alliances with other guilds, group play and interaction is a game all its own with MMOs. If you’ve ever wondered why there are 16 pages of discussion or embarassing screenshots (and sometimes RL pics) traded over the seas where guilds travel, it’s because they’re playing a game that exists beyond the one where you stare at pixellated ass for hours.
Even blogging about games is its own MMO metagame in and of itself. How many times have we seen the authors of two blogs go at it over a disagreed point about MMO balance or issues? What about the intrigue of fansites/blogs’ ability to get “in” with their MMO’s developer, and how that might change or affect their writing style (or not)? Or maybe the mad rush to get the latest information, the highest number of visitors, or simply carve out a stake as a “voice” of the MMO of your choice? These are all things that exist beyond the MMO itself, with dynamics that no game designer could ever hope to program.
Granted, there’s a lot of twisted stuff that goes on with the various elements of the MMO metagame. Some of it might definitely not be the best thing in the world, considering what it reveals about us as humans. But I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a sort of interest that a lot of people, myself included, take in the “game outside of the game”, and the very idea of MMOs as a place for people to meet who wouldn’t normally creates dynamics that are surprising and many times, more beneficial than not. If for nothing else – it makes for some good lunchtime reading.